Manual Dictionary of Movie Clichés

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Table of contents

Five Minute Class, The: No scene showing a class in session ever lasts more than five minutes. Even the most stimulating session is invariably interrupted by the bell. In every scene where actors carry luggage, the luggage is obviously empty. They attempt, with pained expressions on their faces, to pretend the bags are heavy, and yet they can flick them around like feathers. Of all the definitions in the glossary, this has become the most popular. It has been gratifying to be part of an audience where people unknown to me have cried out "Fruit cart! New Hollywood genre which tries to bridge the generation gap by creating movies which will appeal to teen-agers at the box office and to adults at the video rental counter.

An adult becomes a teen-ager, or vice versa cf. Also sometimes masquerades as a movie apparently about adults, but with young actors in the "adult" roles. In many Hollywood action pictures, the woman characters are incapable of fleeing from danger unless dragged by a strong man, who takes the woman's hand and pulls her along meekly behind him. This convention is so strong it appears even in films where it makes no sense, such as SHEENA , in which a jungle-woman who has ruled the savage beasts since infancy is pulled along by a TV anchorman fresh off the plane. At the beginning of chase scenes through colorful ethnic locales, knowledgeable film buffs anticipate the inevitable scene in which the speeding sports car will get stuck on a narrow country lane behind a wagon overloaded with hay.

Bad guy has drop on good guy. Can pull trigger and kill him. Looks like a normal automobile, but backfires after being purchased from used car lot by movie heroine who is starting out again in life and is on her own this time. Driven by the slovenly member of the team in all police versions of the Opposites in Collision plot q.

Always unspeakably filthy, dented, rusty, and containing all of the cop's possessions in the back seat, as well as several weeks' worth of fast-food wrappers. Usually, but not necessarily, some kind of distinctive make or model Gremlin, old Ford woody wagon, beat-up Caddy convertible, 4x4 van, etc. Whenever a scared, cynical woman who never wants to fall in love again is pursued by an ardent suitor who wants to tear her wall of loneliness, she will go grocery shopping.

The bags will always break to 1 symbolize the mess her life is in, or 2 so that the suitor can help her pick up the pieces of her life and her oranges.

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Where people go to die. Victim checks in, doesn't check out, because screen time is too valuable for characters to go into the hospital only to recover a few scenes later. Any film primarily concerned with teen-age sexual hungers, usually male. Replaced, to a degree, by Dead Teen-ager Movies q. Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots. The IFI sequence begins early in the picture, with long shots of a faraway fortress and Wagnerian music on the sound track.

Eventually the hero gains entry to the fortress, which is inevitably manned by technological clones in designer uniforms. Sequence ends with destruction of fortress, as clones futilely attempt to save their marvelous machines. In any movie where the heroine catches her boyfriend dancing in public with another woman, and makes a big scene, the other woman invariably turns out to be the boyfriend's sister.

In most movies, "all that separates us from the apes. Protects characters during fight scenes. They get hit by fists, chairs, bottles, etc. All women in action-adventure flicks are extraneous to the plot unless naked or dead. Kinetic Energy Amplification Phenomenon: In scenes involving gunplay, the kinetic energy of the bullets will be enormously amplified as they strike the victim, enabling him to be hurled great distances and through objects.

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This phenomenon is particularly common around windows and balconies, especially in high-rise buildings. Kinetic Energy Distortion Phenomenon: When someone is shot while standing near a window, balcony or ledge, the kinetic energy will always be distorted so as to throw him outward, regardless of the direction the bullets came from. This enables victims to be hurled out a window and into a spectacular plunge even if the shots came from outside to begin with.

Name for a large sheet of cardboard or plywood with holes in it, which is moved back and forth in front of a light to illuminate a character's face with moving light patterns. Popular in the s; back in style again with the movies of Steven Spielberg , who uses a kookalouris with underlighting to show faces that seem to be illuminated by reflections from pots of gold, buckets of diamonds, pools of fire, pirate maps, and radioactive kidneys.

In any movie where there is a cocktail party featuring a chart, map, or model of a new real estate development, a wealthy property developer will be found dead inside an expensive automobile. Household pets can unerringly detect and react to the presence of ghosts, aliens or other nonhuman entities. Their warnings are invariably ignored. Law of Economy of Characters: Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters.

Sophisticated viewers can use this Law to deduce the identity of a person being kept secret by the movie's plot: This "mystery" person is always the only character in the movie who seems otherwise extraneous. See also Unmotivated Closeup. Law of Inevitable Immersion: Whenever characters are near a body of water, the chances are great that one of them will jump, fall or be pushed into it. If this does occur, it is inevitable that the other character s will also jump, fall or be pushed in.

Law of Movie Brand Loyalty: Thanks to product placement, all characters in a movie, no matter how heterogeneous or geographically dispersed, drink one brand of beer, use one brand of sporting equipment, drive cars produced by one company, etc. Law of Take-out Chinese Food: Take-out Chinese food is eaten in one of only two situations: In the former case, the meal predicts success; in the latter, that the couple will break up.

The latter form seems to be an Evolving Trope - shared takeout, especially Indian, Thai, or Chinese food, seems to be becoming less a sign of a Bad Date , and more a food equivalent to Sweetheart Sipping. Law of Video Box Caricature, The: If you're trying to pick out a video and the actors on the box are cartooned caricatures which are not recognizable, pick another movie. They are never distracted by other cases, clients or causes. Named for the Gentle Giant in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men , this rule dictates that if a film character is of less than normal intelligence or ability, he or she will inadvertently get into serious trouble during the film.

Long-haired Woman Seen from Behind: When approached by hero, inevitably turns out to be a man. Whenever a telephone is seen in a movie, the telephone will eventually ring. Movies starring a mad-dog killer who runs amok, slashing all of the other characters. A hero in pursuit of a purse-snatcher or getaway car can run for many blocks, even up the hills of San Francisco, without getting winded. Miracle of Available Parking Space: When a character needs a parking space, even on the busiest streets in the busiest cities, one is quickly found.

When a character needs to pull into traffic, there is always a break. Tired old cinematographic trick in which we think we are seeing a character, but then the camera pans and we realize we were only looking in a mirror. In movies made before , any character named "Murphy" was a cop, a priest, a drunk, a tough guy, or all of the above.

Any character named Murphy will sooner or later be shown in a saloon, or drinking heavily. Little girls who wear glasses in the movies always tell the truth. Little boys who wear glasses in the movies always lie. Mysterious Object Antecedents Myth: Whenever a movie involves time travel, there will always be an object that travels between the past and future without ever having actually come from anywhere.

He travels back in time to find her, taking the watch with him, and accidentally leaves it there.

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But where did the pocket watch come from in the first place? Myth of the Seemingly Ordinary Day: The day begins like any other, with a man getting up, having breakfast, reading the paper, leaving the house, etc. His activities are so uneventful they are boring. That is the tip-off.

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  6. No genuine ordinary day can be allowed to be boring in a movie. Character sees someone but can't believe his eyes, so shakes his head and says "Nah. The hero and heroine are about to kiss. In which action becomes mysteriously decoupled from reaction, usually in connection with a firearm.

    Typically, a bullet from the hero's handgun lifts the villain off his feet and hurls him backward often through one of those ubiquitous plate glass windows that cars like to drive through while the hero doesn't budge a millimeter. Action equals reaction, right? The hero should be hurled backward with equal force. Thrown into the company of a native tribe of any description, the protagonist discovers the true meaning of life and sees through the sham of modern civilization.

    Wisdom and sensitivity are inevitably possessed by any race, class, age group or ethnic or religious minority that has been misunderstood. Such movies seem well-intentioned at first glance, but replace one stereotype for another ; the natives seem noble, but never real. They may be starving, but if they're noble and have a few good songs, why worry? Seemingly incompatible characters are linked to each other in a plot which depends on their differences for its comic and dramatic interest. Essential that one member of each team be a slob, as revealed by presence of fast-food wrappers in back seat of his Hollywood Cop Car q.

    Odds on Edge Rule: The odds that a car in real life will be able to travel any appreciable distance balanced on two wheels: The odds that this will happen during a chase scene in a movie: In any situation where the hero is alone, surrounded by dozens of bad guys, they will always obligingly attack one at a time. See any Schwarzenegger movie. Any theater that accepts passes will invariably exclude their use for any movie worth seeing. In movies with teenage characters, there is usually a character named Pops who runs the local hang-out or dance club.

    Principle of Evil Marksmanship: The bad guys are always lousy shots in the movies. Three villains with Uzis will go after the hero, spraying thousands of rounds which miss him, after which he picks them off with a handgun. Principle of Pedestrian Pathology: Whenever a character on foot is being pursued by one in a car, the pedestrian inevitably makes the mistake of running down the middle of the street , instead of ducking down a narrow alley, into a building, behind a telephone pole, etc.

    All that saves such pedestrians is the fact that in such scenes the character on foot can always outrun the car.

    Top 10 Worst Action Movie Clichés

    Principle of Selective Lethality: The lethality of a weapon varies, depending on the situation. A single arrow will drop a stampeding bison in its tracks, but it takes five or six to kill an important character. A single bullet will always kill an extra on the spot , but it takes dozens to bring down the hero.

    Any person critical to the movie's sequel such as the hero's buddy can be on the edge of death throughout the film, but by the end of the movie recovers fully. No female character in an action film can flee more than 50 feet before falling flat on her face. We here at TV tropes happily note a trend toward gender equality: No hero is ever cut by glass while leaping through windows. Rule of Chronic Tunnel Vision: In a horror movie, the character being stalked has vision limited to the camera's field of view. Therefore, anyone coming at any angle not directly ahead will invariably scare the living daylights out of him or her.

    Function performed by most men in Hollywood feature films. Involves a series of shots in which the man sees something, he points it out to the woman, she then sees it too, often nodding in agreement, gratitude, amusement, or relief. Scene in which soft focus and slow motion are used while a would-be hit song is performed on the sound track and the lovers run through a pastoral setting. Common from the mids to the mids; replaced in s with the Semi-Obligatory Music Video q.

    Three-minute sequence within otherwise ordinary narrative structure, in which a song is played at top volume while movie characters experience spasms of hyperkinetic behavior and stick their faces into the camera lens. If a band is seen, the Semi-OMV is inevitably distinguished by the director's inability to find a fresh cinematic approach to the challenge of filming a slack-jawed drummer.

    In the age of the seven-minute attention span inspired by the average length between TV commercials , action movies aimed at teen-agers are constructed out of several seven-minute segments. At the end of each segment, another teen-ager is dead. When all the teen-agers are dead or, if you arrived in the middle, when the same dead teen-ager turns up twice , the movie is over.

    Roger Ebert’s list of movie cliches

    When the male and female characters in a trashy action movie go to hell and back, only the woman's clothing begins to disintegrate. Applies to prison, war or police movies, where the hero only has a few more days until he is free, his tour is over, or he can retire with full pension. Whenever such a character makes the mistake of mentioning his remaining time "Three days and I'm outta here!

    Whenever the hero wanders the city streets bemoaning his lost love, and sees a woman in the distance usually from the rear who looks exactly like his beloved, he will inevitably run up to her only to find a total stranger who will look at him as if he's demented. No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.

    Still Out There Somewhere: Obligatory phrase in Dead Teen-ager and Mad Slasher Movies, where it is triggered by the words, " The body was never found. When a star of a movie shows up in a new town, that person will be famous in that town by the end of the movie. Affliction that compels filmmakers and special effects people to depict the malfunction of computers as being accompanied by smoke, flames, showers of pyrotechnic sparks, frenzied flashing lights, and wildly spinning tape drives spewing tape into the air.

    Cinematic Terms - A FilmMaking Glossary

    He had lost his voice and much of his jaw after battling thyroid and salivary gland cancer. To that end, Ebert and loyal fans have penned wit-filled terms to create a virtual lexicon of the inane Ebert's Little Movie Glossary: A fixture in Roger Ebert's Video Companion, the Glossary of Movie Terms has attempted to identify and label those cliches and inevitable developments that become wearying to the faithful movie lover. To that end, Ebert and loyal fans have penned wit-filled terms to create a virtual lexicon of the inane in film.

    A Greatly Expanded and Much Improved Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary: